Highlight: Youth ministry and the church

What would a church need to effectively engage the next generation of believers? Is it about having a larger budget? Hiring younger staff? Keeping up on the latest worship music?

After studying over 250 churches with thriving youth ministries, Jake Mulder and his research team from the Fuller Youth Institute discovered that empathy is one of the top ways to engage with young people in the church.

Jake describes some of the misconceptions that people may have about reaching out to millennials.

“Throughout history, different generations might look at each other either with care or suspicion, but often we hear when people talk about millennials there’s the perspective, ‘Millennials are lazy, they’re entitled, they’re not willing to work hard, etc.’

“As we dug into churches that seem effective with young people, we saw that instead of judging and sort of criticizing from a distance, these churches are able to step into the shoes of young people. They’re able to understand, what is it that might be motivating their behavior? Rather than just being frustrated with the behaviors.”

It may be hard to understand everything a young person is going through, but research reveals that millennials wrestle with the same questions of most adults in the church.

“Who am I? Where do I belong? What difference can I make?’”

“While every generation asks those questions to a certain extent, today’s young adults, given all the shifts in culture and technology, are asking those questions with a new fervor. There’s a lot of heat when it comes to trying to figure those questions out today.”

“Congregations can respond best by being willing to step into their shoes and understand their struggles, hopes and dreams.”

It’s not about formulating answers to their questions or concerns, it’s about introducing them to the person of Jesus. Jake says we need to be committed to take Jesus’ message seriously.

“Instead of young people being drawn to churches that are shallow, that are easy that don’t require much of them, we actually heard the exact opposite from the teenagers and young adults in our study. They told us the whole reason why I love my church, why my friends love my church, is because the church actually challenges us with the Gospel; it challenges us with who Jesus is.”

By staying true to the gospel message and empathizing with our youth, we’ll be able to better engage them in their faith journey and bring unity to the body of Christ.

“One way of engaging young people with the gospel is having a solid answer where there’s no way to doubt that this answer could ever be right, and we just deliver that to young people very nice and very packaged and complete and ask them to buy into that.”

Jake Mulder is the director of strategic initiatives at the Fuller Youth Institute and is pursuing a PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has worked in a variety of ministry and professional roles, including as a youth pastor in the Reformed Church of America, ministry director with Youth for Christ, and missionary with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Europe and Asia.

Growing Young
Also on this edition of Neil Stavem
Leith Anderson